If you thought the festive greetings card was dead, think again. Holiday season is still an inspiration for advertising creatives when it comes to spreading seasonal cheer, and they put an impressive amount of effort into these offerings, even if few people outside the industry will ever see them.
“I love the craft of doing everything on camera–with no re-touching, no post-production,” observes Rob Fletcher, creative director at London ad agency Isobel, whose agency Christmas cards have become an industry institution over the past ten years.
Each year the entire agency team–which now numbers around 30–participate in a photo shoot to create a striking tableaux inspired by a different creative theme used as the agency’s Christmas card. Past efforts have featured the staff dressed as 1970s accountants, ballroom dancers, cast members from The Sound of Music and Glee.
For this year’s card, staff spent three hours in make-up to age 50 years for the agency’s elderly theme.
“The filter for me is: does it say something?” says Fletcher, explaining Isobel’s approach to creating a great seasonal greeting. “It’s not just about doing something silly or daft in a fancy dress context. This year’s card is a reaction to youth in advertising, really–most of our own staff are aged between 22 and 28.”
Nor is it necessarily about raising money or awareness for charity–a common aspect of agency festive card thinking. “A charity link normalizes it,” he believes though quickly adds that the agency does support charities at other times during the year.
“All agencies want to do something fun as a Christmas message–ideally to get people talking, either about a good cause or simply their own creativity,” says Stuart Smith, Chief Strategy Officer and Partner at Anomaly London.
Inspired by the work it has been doing recently for Elle U.K.’s #MoreWomen campaign to raise awareness of the need for more women in senior positions, the creative team asked young children if they thought a woman could be Santa. The end result is a festive greetings video also set to generate dinner table debate this festive season.
“You can have a festive message with or without a serious point,” Smith says. “But you must always engage, and you must get the balance right: too provocative or too dark and you risk killing people’s fun.”
Adds Martin Grimer, executive creative director at brand storytelling agency Aesop: “Brands invest heavily in their Christmas campaigns and I think this has trickled down to agencies wanting to do more and push the edges to demonstrate creative flair and smart thinking.”
To demonstrate its storytelling ethos this year, Aesop came up with Christmas Curiosities–a collection of extraordinary, magical one-off curios including a magic carpet and a pair of authentic elf’s boots. Each item, fashioned or adapted by the agency then mounted in a box frame or presentation jar, is now available to buy on eBay with funds raised going to cancer charity Maggie’s.
For Fletcher, however, bucking the trend is one of the most important creative considerations.
“We started doing our cards in 2004 when e-card giving was taking off and paper cards in decline. But though digital cards flashed and beeped they felt cold and impersonal. We wanted a physical card to buck the trend,” he explains.
“We set out to take the recipient to another place and and that sometimes involves not explaining why. And clients don’t often get it, but they do seem proud to be associated with this kind of creativity–which, after all, is why they work with us rather than a larger, process-driven agency.”
Fletcher adds: “Too many other agency Christmas cards are just a bit too conservative, really.”
See the slide show above for 10 of the most creative agency cards to come out of the U.K. this holiday season.